Herb Profile: Reishi
Reishi is one of the most popular mushrooms on the market and with good reason! Its super immune-boosting properties have led reishi to be known as the “king” of mushrooms (but we might also say the “queen” as well). Did you know that reishi helps to systemically relax the body and strengthen the adrenal system by boosting our immunity?
This came as a BIG surprise to us since we tend to divide our immune, nervous and hormonal systems into their own separate categories (with separate herbs to support them). Reishi helps us let go of these "boundaries" and find a balance between our core systems. And what could be better than starting your day off feeling balanced and relaxed instead of a jittery, hot mess? 😉
If the body is a tree, the immune system is the root system that allows the rest of us to flourish, grow and bloom every year. Have you ever seen a sad-looking plant that has no visible ailments (e.g., pests, diseases, etc.) and you’re not quite sure why it looks the way it does? Try looking towards the root!
Essentially, this is reishi’s claim to fame. It builds up the immune system and provides long-term support from the root so that the rest of our bodily functions and systems can thrive. With reishi, our adrenal system is strengthened, our nervous system is balanced, our hormones are aligned and our skin looks radiant!
Typically when stress levels rise, our immunity falls (Pursell, 2015). For instance, if our adrenals are working overtime, triggering a cortisol release at every stressful event, our immune system can falter and deregulate. If this continues for too long, we can start to see signs of autoimmune issues.
One of the ways reishi comes to the rescue is by promoting a proper immune and inflammatory response, so our antibodies react only when they are actually needed. Thank goodness for adaptogenic mushrooms!
Reishi’s immune boosting power also helps when we are surrounded by bugs, bacteria and funky illnesses in the air. Its antiviral properties are top-notch, and reishi is even used as adjunctive therapy for cancer (Brown, n.d.; Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, n.d.). Yes, we said it: “the C-word.” If you read our herb profile on chaga, then you know how reishi isn’t the only component in Rasa that supports finding balance with cancer. These “magic mushrooms” work together in Rasa to build up your immune system and gives it the super boost most of us need.
What reishi looks like in Rasa 👇👇👇
Reaction to Relaxation
Ever feel like you’re constantly see-sawing between emotions? One minute you feel “fine” and the next moment you feel like the world is ending. Although some extreme life moments can warrant intense emotional reactions, not all of them need to. To balance our emotions, reishi helps our nervous system move from a place of reaction to relaxation.
Think back to our tree analogy. When we constantly expose the body to stressors, it can feel like our body is living in hurricane-like conditions. And we are all familiar with the damage that hurricanes can do to plants. With constant stress, our sympathetic nervous system (“fight or flight”) is firing off the emergency alarms left and right, so our parasympathetic nervous system never has the time or space to do what it needs to do (“rest and digest”).
Reishi helps strengthen our parasympathetic nervous system so it can take a break, the stress storm can die down, and we can actually feel balanced in our bodies and our minds (Pursell, 2015). This means we can stop reacting to everything and start relaxing into life.
Moreover, systemic relaxation isn’t just for bedtime. It is essential for our body to thrive in the long run. When you introduce relaxing adaptogenic mushrooms like reishi into your life, you are helping balance the body in such a way that relaxation becomes a sustainable part of life, not just a temporary storm shelter.
Live Like An Immortal
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and other traditions around the world, you always read about the infamous “immortals” who lived thousands of years (or longer)! But what were they actually doing (or not doing) in order to live so long that they could claim "immorality status"? What herbs were in their back pocket?
For over 2000 years (in recorded history), reishi has been used by Taoist monks, herbalists and royalty to help prolong life, prevent aging and make the body “light and limber” (Upton et al., 2006). Taoist monks used reishi to promote a centered calmness and improve their meditation practice. With more studies promoting the positive effects of meditation on aging, in combination with the power of reishi, we think these monks were seriously on to something (Epel et al., 2009; Hoge et al., 2013).
If you read our herb profiles on He Shou Wu and Ashwagandha, then you know that longevity is a running theme in the Rasa formula. Not only are we FASCINATED by longevity tonic herbs, we believe there is no time like the present to start living as the "immortals" did.
The Heart-Mind Connection
Many people marvel at the beautiful swirling heart-shape of reishi’s fruiting body. Some believe there is a reason why reishi looks like a heart. In various branches of natural medicine, reishi is widely used to treat cardiovascular disease and hypertension and as a general cardiotonic (Brown, n.d.; Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, n.d.).
In one study, reishi was found to significantly reduce blood pressure levels in only two weeks (Stengler, 2005). In another study, a variety of hypertension-related symptoms including dizziness, headache, chest tightness and insomnia substantially improved with reishi (Cheng, et al., 1993).
The heart matter doesn’t stop there though - reishi is a fabulous tool to help bridge and support the heart-mind connection. Remember how we mentioned that reishi helps calm the mind and supports a state of natural relaxation in the body? It is simultaneously working to nourish and calm our “Shen,” which resides in the heart (Upton, et al., 2006). In TCM, Shen is translated as both “spirit” and “mind” (Stevenson, et al., 2014). Isn't it interesting that from this perspective our “mind” resides in the heart?
When Things Are Not So Relaxing…
There are a few specific instances to be aware of when reishi does not provide the kind of relaxation you are looking for. In general, reishi is considered a very safe herb with few adverse effects. Extremely sensitive individuals, however, might experience mild detoxification effects when using reishi, such as digestive issues, dizziness and skin rashes.
Since reishi is a powerful immune-boosting herb with immunomodulating polysaccharides, it should be used with caution if you are dealing with an autoimmune condition, undergoing an organ transplant or using other immunosuppressive medications. With all herbal use, it is advised to consult with your professional healthcare provider first, especially if you have other conditions (Guide to Reishi Mushrooms, n.d.).
Respect The Reishi
We have developed a deep respect for reishi and all that it can do for our health. The powers of this adaptogenic mushroom don’t end here though. Reishi is also used for gastric ulcers, diabetes, asthma, hepatitis, liver protection and even altitude sickness (Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, n.d.).
We will go into more detail on these benefits later, but in the meantime, incorporating reishi into your herbal toolbox for its longevity supporting, heart tonifying, immune boosting and stress balancing properties is a good place to start. Plus, it's a bada$$ relaxing adaptogenic mushroom!
About the Author
Heather is a Certified Clinical Herbalist and Nutritionist, Medical Anthropologist, Writer, Whole-Body Wellness Coach, and Holistic Educator. Connect with her on her personal website www.heathersaba.com and Instagram (@heathersaba)
Brown, K. Reishi Herbal Monograph. [Online Article]. Retrieved from: https://naturalherballiving.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Reishi-Natural-Herbal-Living-Magazine-March-2017.pdf.
Cheng Z., et al. (1993). Effects of ling zhi on hemorheology parameters and symptoms of hypertension patients with hyperlipidemia and sequelae of cerebral thrombosis. From The research on Ganoderma lucidum, 1(1), 339-42. Shanghai: Shanghai Medical University Press.
Epel, E., Daubenmier, J., Moskowitz, J.T., Folkman, S., & Blackburn, E. (2009). Can meditation slow rate of cellular aging? Cognitive stress, mindfulness, and telomeres. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1172, 34-53. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2009.04414.x.
Guide to Reishi Mushrooms. (n.d.). Retrieved from: http://www.reishi.com/faq.htm.
Hoge, E.A., et al. (2013). Loving-kindness meditation practice associated with longer telomeres in women. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 32, 159-163. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2013.04.005.
Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. (n.d.). Reishi Mushroom. [Website]. Retrieved from: http://naturaldatabase.therapeuticresearch.com/nd/Search.aspx?pt=100&id=905&AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1.
Pursell, J.J. (2015). The herbal apothecary: 100 medicinal herbs and how to use them. Portland, OR: Timber Press.
Stengler, M. (2005). The health benefits of medicinal mushrooms. USA: Basic Health Publications, Inc.
Stevenson, X., Shusheng, T., & Chun-su, Y. (2014). Handbook of traditional Chinese medicine (in 3 volumes). Singapore: World Scientific Publishing Co.
Upton, R., et al. (2006). Reishi Mushroom. American Herbal Pharmacopoeia, April. [Online Journal]. Retrieved from: http://www.medicinacomplementar.com.br/biblioteca/pdfs/Fitoterapia/fi-0405.pdf.